The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: BLACK GENEALOGY by Kiki Petrosino

To locate B, you must learn to move in two directions.
Find the war & begin to pace the decades forward, then
back. Carry on your person the Hotchkiss map of the
zone you’re searching, plus a handwritten list of relatives’
names under the heading cloud of witnesses. If you reach
your mother in her red raincoat, if you can hear her calling
you from the woods, you’ve gone too far. Start again
from the depot. A train will transport you to 1870, the
next census after the war, but you won’t be permitted to
disembark unless B appears. To be honest with you, no
one in this county has ever disembarked at 1870; witness
the platform for that year, covered in wasps. You’ll have
to start again from the depot & walk until you reach the
1850 slave schedule. Here, you’ll first glimpse Old Master
on a wooden bench, surrounded by the members of his
white & black households in various states of service. We
advised you to carry your cloud of witnesses precisely for
moments like this. Some names will repeat over multiple
persons, while others have no names at all. You have only
to lay your cloud of witnesses over the scene & wait for a
match. Any shape you see could be yours.

This selection comes from the collection Black Genealogy, available from Brain Mill Press. Order your copy here. Our curator for December is Krista Cox.

Kiki Petrosino is the author of three collections with Sarabande Books: Fort Red Border (2009), Hymn for the Black Terrific (2013), and Witch Wife (forthcoming, Dec. 2017). Witch Wife has received positive advance industry press, including a starred review from Publishers Weekly and inclusion on The Millions’s list of must-read poetry for December. Petrosino holds degrees from the University of Chicago and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Her poems have appeared in the New York Times, Best American Poetry, Poetry magazine, and elsewhere.

Krista Cox is a paralegal and poet living in northern Indiana. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pittsburgh Poetry Review, The Indianola Review, Whale Road Review, and Pirene’s Fountain, among other places in print and online. She twice received the Lester M. Wolfson Student Award in Poetry, and has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. In her abundant spare time, Krista parents, paints, and plans community events as the Program Director of Lit Literary Collective. Learn more than you ever wanted to know about her at


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